We Just Don’t Do That Here

My friend sent me an article this week about body shaming- the way we talk about people’s bodies as ”good” or “bad”.
This spring, I had an awesome water exercise class.   Twice a week, I’d go frolic in a pool in the morning, and I’d shower off the bromine afterwards.  Like most people, I shower naked.  The showers at school are not private, so other people can see my naked, fat body.  Lucky them.

The weird part was, that one woman told me more than once while I was in the shower, “You’ve lost weight!”

People use “You’ve lost weight” as a catch-all compliment.  Generally when someone insists I’ve lost weight, I say, “I doubt it, and that’s ok.” Lather, rinse, repeat. My response is usually met by a double-down. “No, I really think you have.  Maybe you’ve just toned up.  I don’t know, you look good.” I tend to repeat things like “I work out to feel better, I don’t think that’s likely, I like my body as-is,” until they go away or change the subject.

However, this person did this while I was naked-unsolicited, and more than once.  That’s not acceptable.  We have a perfectly pleasant unspoken code that you ignore the fact that other people are naked in a locker room.  You don’t look, and you certainly don’t comment.  I let it go the first time, and after the second time, I stopped by their locker and tried to deal with this kindly and privately.

That went over like a fart in church.  
She said, “I was just complimenting you.”
(I understand that. It still makes me uncomfortable, and I’d appreciate it if you didn’t do it again.)
“Well, you don’t have to worry about it, I don’t like you *mumble mumble* anyway.”
She then flipped me the bird on my way back to the shower, and started yelling from beyond the shower wall as she walked by.

When I told friends this story, people were shocked- why would she react that way?

While I was surprised at the vehemence of her response, I wasn’t shocked.  People expect me to hate my body.  Combine that with asking someone to stop what they view as acceptable behavior, and having a hard time can easily end up turning to hostility.

A week or so later, I was waiting for a massage at the local steam bath (love that place!) and ended up striking up a conversation with another woman in the waiting area.  We talked about partners and houses, and where we’ve lived, and we ended up talking about her experience with breast cancer.  She had breast cancer over 20 years ago, and gained significant weight when she was on Tamoxifen.  She talked about trying to lose it, and how hard it was, and how she eventually just settled into her own body after a while, but at least she’s not obese.

I said, “I am,” and talked about how no weight loss program has a remotely reasonable 5-year success rate, how improving your diet and exercise show health improvement while weight loss may not, and how I’ve chosen not to yo-yo diet, or diet at all anymore.  I excused myself and had a lovely massage, and chatted about old and new birth control options with my massage therapist.

When I returned from my massage, the same woman and another woman started telling me about quinoa, kambucha, and other health foods that I should try, out of the blue.  I told them that I like quinoa, I’m interested in kambucha, don’t much care for coconut water, etc., etc.  I mentioned that I want to find some ethically sourced quinoa, since the native Bolivians and Peruvians can’t afford their own healthy crop, and I don’t particularly want to contribute to that.  Even so, I was caught in a continued crossfire of unsolicited diet advice, and it was uncomfortable.

These are not unusual moments in living while fat, but they are notable.

They are notable because these are the few times this happens to me anymore.  I didn’t become less fat.  I convinced all my friends, family, and coworkers that “We don’t do that here.”

We don’t put down our bodies, or other people’s bodies.
We don’t talk about food like it is our enemy. 
We don’t talk about your diet.
We don’t let our size limit what we want to wear.

It’s nothing against you, we just don’t do that here. 

It took a long time to get comfortable with it.  But “we don’t do that here” is not too hard. 

Neither is just stating your opinion.  When I was working with someone who was making fun of the idea of a fat woman in a bikini, I said “Oh, I’ve wanted one for a while! I’ve got my eye on a cute one with a Hawaiian pattern on it.”  Let them think about what they’ve said.

I compliment people on what they do, not what they are.  For me, this means I compliment people on their style and achievements, which are things we choose, rather than on their body. 

It takes some effort, but changing these interactions with people means I spend less time worrying about body image issues, and some friends have thanked me for changing how they view their body, too.